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COVID Controversies Drive Growing Distrust of Scientists

Terry Jones writes for Issues and Insights about disturbing new poll results involving science and public trust.

From coronavirus vaccines and the virus’ origin to climate change, a substantial portion of the country distrusts scientists to do their jobs honestly and capably. The latest data from the September Issues & Insights/TIPP Poll also found significant differences among Americans of different political views, reflecting a growing politicization of science in America.

The I&I/TIPP poll asked Americans “how much trust do you place in scientists” in three areas of science prominent in today’s headlines: “vaccine safety,” “climate change,” and “coronavirus origin.”

Overall, among the three, vaccine safety was tops in scientist trust, at 61%. Perhaps not surprisingly, that almost perfectly matches the share of the U.S. population currently vaccinated: 63%.

But just 45% said they trusted scientists when it comes to the actual origins of the coronavirus. A scientific debate has raged over whether the virus originated in a Wuhan “wet market” or in the Chinese-government-run Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The debate revived this month after revelations that the U.S.’ top COVID-19 scientist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, helped fund dangerous gain-of-function virus research at the Wuhan lab. That laboratory has been implicated as the likely site for the creation and subsequent release of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

As for climate change, just 54% of those queried said they trusted scientists, a sign of significant mistrust despite overwhelming media sensationalism and extreme political bias on the global warming issue. …

… By far, the greatest differences of opinion on these questions seem to come from political party affiliation.

For instance, on the question of trusting scientists on vaccine safety, Democrats (79%) were far more likely to trust them than either Republicans (42%) or independents/other (57%). On the origins of COVID-19, a similar split could be seen: Dems (64%), GOP (28%), and independents (41%).

Climate change showed the widest political divisions of all when it came to trusting the scientific community: Dems (74%), GOP (32%), and independents (50%).

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...